I had to self-isolate earlier this month. I have to say, it’s a strange, unpredictable virus – as soon as I started feeling better, another symptom kicked in. Covid throws you each waking hour. But it was in those moments of solitude that I was really reminded of a founding value crucial to My Life – that being part of a community isn’t just about geographical locality, it’s feeling part of a network of helpful, caring connections and relationships to which everyone should have access. I’ve certainly appreciated that support – albeit remote – in the past few weeks.
I’ve also seen the incredible sacrifice of our My Life Support teams through these difficult days of the pandemic – some even moved into the houses of people who need 24/7 support for two weeks, so families could be reassured that high quality consistent care could be maintained. To me, that emphasises the amazing humanity of the people we employ – this isn’t just paid-for support, this is support that truly cares, and I don’t think you can put a monetary value on that. It’s priceless.
So, though the world may be tired and in need of respite, not only does it feel like there might be light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccination programme, but I genuinely believe that My Life’s cherished position as an organisation which believes in inclusion and the power of community in its many different forms gives us a great chance to be a shining light of compassion, joy and equality in a dark period where people are looking for hope.
Just before Christmas, I ran a management and leadership session for My Life staff. We’re really keen on this stuff; I’m sure you’ve all been on interminable courses which pay lip service to culture and values within an organisation, but given these inclusive values are the whole reason My Life was set up in the first place, it feels more relevant to us. Anyway, I got everyone at the session to stand in a socially distant line, at least two metres apart, in the order they came to My Life.
The ones who were there at the start were able to understand and convey why My Life’s values of inclusion are so important to us – possibly because I rammed it home to them on a daily basis in the early days! If you’ve been sent this blog you’ve probably heard them from me countless times too – but it’s worth reiterating how crucial inclusion is.
Everyone capable of breathing, even if breathing requires support, is entitled to be included in society and community – no-one is too difficult, too old, too poor or too disabled to qualify. We have to help people be part of and belong to communities because that’s the way we can recognise, encourage and value each person’s gifts and strengths – that way, we all learn and grow.
Indeed, personalisation – the central idea behind My Life, where people are empowered to build a sustainable life for themselves or their loved ones – was built on those values. Through focusing on values, we were able to come up with a process by which person-centred support could have a robust but caring mechanism to offer high-quality, consistent care.
Inclusion – or to put it another way, kindness – isn’t just an idea to bestow on others either; really it should be present in our interactions with everyone. Caring for people is more than a service, it’s a way of being, an attitude, which in turn enables people to live their best lives. So even though clapping for carers was a laudable initiative, is this workforce doing such amazing things in incredibly difficult circumstances really valued? If nothing else I hope this first blog emphasises that we must obviously always be kind to those being cared for, but the carers themselves deserve kindness and understanding too.
Anyway, back to my line of people. It was fascinating to find that at a certain point along it, some of those values got a bit woolly in the retelling. It didn’t mean that at some point we suddenly started recruiting uncaring staff, far from it. But it underlined for me that assuming people know the values of an organisation can easily cause problems. You have to spend time instilling values across all people – because ultimately it’s the values which will drive high standards.
I will admit, sometimes the growth of My Life into an organisation which offers day opportunities, education, advocacy, lodges for respite and independent living, and support to individuals with complex and enduring needs in their own home, means we hear whispers that we’re growing too vast, that we must be commercially orientated. But I can guarantee that every time we’ve been able to improve or diversify, it’s been because people have asked for it – or genuinely needed us to do something for them. This idea of an umbrella of support has been embryonic rather than part of a hard-nosed business plan.
Essentially, My Life evolved from a situation where people finally had the autonomy to choose how they wanted to spend money allocated to them for care – but found there was nothing to buy. We found good quality people to provide that care through our Pathways 2 Employment programme, and then got the response: “we’ve sorted the staff out, now what are they going to do all day?”
That’s how we grew and stood out from the crowd, by being an organisation that could be diverse while still keeping our core values of inclusion intact – which, returning to Covid one last time, has actually been a benefit; the blend of services and opportunities we have has certainly been critical to keeping the charity going.
This is a New Year like no other. But I do still want to look forward and drive My Life to ever greater ways of sustainably contributing to the community. Yes, we’ve brought people to Standish and Leigh in particular, and as I said at the start, the inclusion model shouldn’t always be about specific locations. But what our places allow us to do is build relationships with people, work out what excellent support actually looks like and find really positive outcomes for each person who comes through the door.
And by doing that, you can find the right thing for them out in the wider community too.
Caroline Tomlinson, My Life Founder and Chief Executive Officer
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